This weekend at Sunday School, I went on a wild rant about antinomianism (Wiki) and why we should care about doing good even when we really don’t want to. Because the Bible says things like “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast,” (Eph. 2:8-9) we can start to think “well, if I’m not obligated to love my enemies, or anything else for that matter, why shouldn’t I just take God’s free grace and live as I want to? This thought is called antinomianism.
I think this a bad idea for a few reasons. The first thing that gave me course correction when I had this same thought was probably the least helpful, and that was a vicious cycle created by the tension between the above verse and verses like Matthew 12:33 that point out that good trees bear good fruit. It got me wondering, if I’m not doing good deeds, am I really saved? Then I’d say “of course!” and quote Paul again. As the gentleman on my left pointed out on Sunday, examining your faith through the lens of salvation, and judging yourself (or others) based on who goes to heaven is not only the wrong question to ask, it’s just not helpful. Rather than make decisions based on whether or not you’ll get to be (or stay) in the club, it’s better to think of your relationship with God as one of love. He loves us, and if we truly love Him, shouldn’t we want to act selflessly toward Him? This is just like any relationship with someone you love — if you’re choosing your actions around what they get you, that’s probably not a great way to demonstrate love.
In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer published a book called “The Cost of Discipleship,” in which he calls the antinomian view “cheap grace” and says that “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ,” insisting that while we are given grace freely, it cost God an awful lot, and that something which is costly to God should never be seen as cheap by those who love Him.
[Aside: Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived out costly grace as well as he wrote about it. In 1933, as a citizen of Germany, Bonhoeffer began rallying against Adolf Hitler in public a mere two days after Hitler rose to power. Bonhoeffer raised the first voice for church resistance to Hitler’s persecution of Jews, declaring that the church must not simply “bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.” He was a pivotal member of the Confessing Church (Wiki) – he publicly stood against the Nazi regime, helped people flee Germany, and eventually joined the Abwehr (the German military intelligence organization that was portrayed in the movie “Valkyrie”), which ultimately led to Bonhoeffer being imprisoned and executed by the Nazis.]
TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read) – For too long, many of us have viewed the Bible as a rule book, where (to paraphrase Kevin Smith), God shakes his finger at you from thousands of years ago and says ‘do it, and I’ll spank you!’ Instead, if we view God as a loving parent who invites us to be in relationship with Him — if we understand that the “rules” are God’s way of saying “I want good things for you, and I want you to avoid things that are bad for you,” it gives us a better, fuller understanding of His commands. No longer are they simply “rules” or annoying hoops to jump through at the behest of some circus ringmaster — rather they are the word of a truly loving parent whose view from eternity gives us commands so that we might have life and have it to the fullest.